By Dave Ruden
GREENWICH — Lou Marinelli had just finished his postgame speech and his New Canaan football players quickly hopped up, gathered and raised their hands together.
The Rams, moments earlier, had completed man-bites-dog feats: putting up 66 points on vaunted Greenwich and posting a 46-point win. Two late scores by the Cardinals in the 66-20 decision, the New Canaan players and coaches critically attributed to a letdown.
Opposing coaches of teams on the Rams’ schedule will get no comfort watching the game film.
Which makes the four words that linebacker Cole Harris shouted before the Rams broke it down and headed home all the scarier.
We can do better.
“We can definitely be better,” said Harris. “We gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return and the two at the end we lacked intensity. I definitely think we can do better than this.”
If that is indeed the case, give the Rams their FCIAC and state championship trophies now and break out the basketballs and hockey pucks.
New Canaan was hyped up all preseason, and thus far they have surpassed the lofty expectations. Heck, after taking a 10-6 lead midway through the first quarter on the first of quarterback Nick Cascione’s three touchdown runs, they went three straight series with just one combined first down.
The Cardinals were riding Austin Longi’s 80-yard kickoff return for a score to that point as the New Canaan defense was stifling. Then two plays that, given the fireworks that ensued, may not be remembered served as a jump-start.
First, Kyle Smith, on a punt he probably should not have fielded, picked the ball up on a bounce and exploded through an opening for a 31-yard return. Cole Turpin followed with a great 25-yard catch in traffic and, two plays later, Cascione scored on another 4-yard run to make the score 17-6.
Three plays later, defensive lineman Connor Buck got into the face of Greenwich quarterback Jose Melo, resulting in a weak pass that Harris picked off and returned 25 yards for a touchdown.
After Greenwich again went three-and-out, Harris, who just has a knack for making plays, blocked a punt and Cass Knox returned it 12 yards for a score.
Twenty-one points in 3 1/2 minutes.
The lead would swell to 38-6 by halftime and 52-6 midway through the third quarter before the Greenwich players, for the second straight week, were left with the pained looks they usually inflict on others.
“It doesn’t happen very often down here, I’ll tell you that,” Marinelli said. “I was as surprised as anybody. We started out slow, a little sloppy and then the defense turned this thing around. I’m very pleased with the way we played. We were fortunate today.”
Marinelli was modest because there was no luck involved. The Rams have a special team, and they know it. Not in a cocky way. Perhaps as impressive as the talent level is the composed heads. Nothing is taken for granted. The realization is that all the potential for greatness could come tumbling down if hard work is ever replaced by complacency.
“We just have to keep on getting better,” said Harris, one of the leaders who sets the tone for his teammates to follow. “We have to keep on taking the coaching well. I think we can do something special.”
The Rams have three games before going back to back against Staples and then, in what would be the regular season game of the year if they can both win out, a Friday night home game against St. Joseph.
That prospect was laid out for Cascione, who unsurprisingly was not taking the bait.
“We have a lot of good teams to play before that,” Cascione said. “We can’t afford to look that far ahead.”
The Rams do and say all the right things.
And if Harris’ four words prove true, it may be time to start dusting off a trophy case that has not had any new additions in three years.